Saturday, March 10, 2007

 

Which Doesn't Belong and Why?

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The Bill of Rights of the Constitution of Virginia was one of the great testing grounds and inspirations for the Constitution of the United States. Giants in our history, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Mason, in forging Virginia's Constitution, set the stage for the document that would transform a loose band of squabbling nationlets into a country -- all the while penning some of the most stirring words in defense of freedom the world has ever heard, before or since.

From Mason and Madison:

That religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

And then Jefferson:

No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

Charles W. (Bill) Carrico, Sr. inexplicably thinks he is ready to join the ranks of those men. Mr. Carrico, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, has offered an amendment to add the following language to the words above:

To secure further the people’s right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience, neither the Commonwealth nor its political subdivisions shall establish any official religion, but the people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including public schools, shall not be infringed.

As noted by Rob Boston, in his article, "Avalanche Of Bad Bills Threatens Church-State Separation In Legislatures Across America," for Church & State, the magazine of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Carrico's language appears to have been lifted straight from a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution by U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma. While worded vaguely, no doubt deliberately, and innocuously named the "Religious Speech Amendment" to better frame any debate, Istook's measure is still easily recognized as a vehicle for permitting organized public school prayer. In case there was any doubt of that, Carrico has been quoted on his earlier efforts in this area:

New language was needed, he said, to counter court decisions that have persecuted Christians and expelled expressions of faith from the public square.

Everyone is already absolutely guaranteed the right to pray anywhere and in every way they choose by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Virginia. What they are not allowed to do is to use the government's power to organize or enforce such prayer or to disrupt the rights of others, who don't share their religious beliefs, to reasonable use of that selfsame public square as they choose and in peace.

Jefferson, prescient as always, knew that there would be small minds snapping at the heels of freedom. He ended his proposal with these words:

And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.

Jefferson never met Bill Carrico, but he foresaw all too well the petty thieves who would make off with our natural rights in the dark of the night. To put the final nail in the coffin of Carrico's disdain for the people who founded this country, he is quoted as mouthing this obstinate, if common, misunderstanding of the history of our country spread by the Righteous Right:

"Our country was built upon the Christian principles of the Bible," he told the committee. "Today our Constitution, in my opinion, has to be strengthened to protect those rights of all Christians around the nation."

You know where that whirring sound is coming from.
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